What Is It?

Tsukikage Ran is a twelve-episode comedy anime set in Feudal Japan.The title was directed by Jubei-chan creator Akitaro Daichi and animated by Madhouse.

The show revolves around Ran, an attractive female samurai with unmatched skills with the blade, as well as a particular affection for sake. The life of a wandering samurai isn’t terrible: the hours are flexible, the people one encounters are interesting, and there is always an opportunity for travel. Unfortunately, samurai aren’t exactly a growth industry, so Ran often sees herself running low on cash and scraping for her next round of booze money.

Ran’s peaceful life is turned upside-down when she runs across Lady Meow: a loud-mouthed martial artist with a thirst for adventure. Meow sees Ran as a fellow thrillseeker: one who will travel the country and fight for what is right. Ran, on the other hand, would like nothing more than to ditch the girl at the soonest opportunity. As the two cross the countryside, they encounter numerous adventures, that range from run-ins with foreign giants, to aiding in the discovery of electricity all while righting wrongs, fighting baddies, and yes, enjoying a drink of sake from time to time.

Why Was Is Passed Up?

Tsukikage Ran is a title that seemed to be fated to fail. Unlike more popular samurai fare like Samurai Champloo and Ninja Scroll, the show is a period title that stays mostly in the bounds of reality. There are no crazy hip-hop inspired fight scenes or over-the-top action.

If this weren’t enough to drive most casual viewers away, the show was released in September 2002, at the height of the anime boom. Companies were rushing to put their catalogs onto DVD, and the title had to contend with older titles like the Project A-Ko collection and Dirty Pair Flash, while also fending off the hype from newer acquisitions, like ADV’s Otakon reveal of Voices of a Distant Star. Companies were announcing new titles and releases by the dozen at this point, so the quirky, four-volume TV show never had much of a chance, as it was buried under the literal sea of releases spewing into the market every month.

Why This Show?

Tsukikage Ran is a charming show that manages to work the “buddy anime” trope without becoming tiresome. The characters are well-written, and the pacing manages to meander without getting bogged down in the minutiae of the era. Instead, the series finds a sense of humor in every facet of the series, from the absurdity of old customs to the general idiocy of period drama plots in themselves. The playful ribbing reaches do deeply that even the show’s opening theme song is a sweeping enka melody (common for the genre), that revolves around a woman’s love of the bottle

At the same time, Daichi lends his own personal touch to the show, and breathes life into the two leads. Ran is a fun, spirited lady that knows what she wants, while Meow is quite the opposite, forming somewhat of an Odd Couple dynamic between the two.

The show’s oddball humor and light-hearted whimsy work well against the serious plotlines Ran and Meow are tossed into. Kidnappings, revenge killings, and false prophets are given the melodramatic flair the genre commands. At the same time, the leading ladies serve dual roles as both heroines and comic relief, as they delve from badass warriors in one scene, to self-serving drunkards and goofs in the next.

Closing Thoughts

This is one of the rare shows that is difficult to explain but incredibly satisfying to watch. The charming cast and whimsical take on the period drama are a refreshing change of pace from flashy, yet gory action shows like Afro Samurai and supernaturally-infused titles like Yotoden or Samurai Deeper Kyo. At the same time, there is enough action to keep the samurai fans engaged, and more than enough over-the-top melodrama to satisfy period fans. It’s a shame that the show was ultimately passed on by the market, as it is a title that flew under the radar and into the hearts of a select few.


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